Degree Requirements: Qualifying Examination (QE)

Purpose. The purpose of the QE is to ascertain the breadth of the student’s comprehension of fundamental facts and principles that apply in the major field of study and to determine whether the student has the ability to think incisively and critically about the theoretical and the practical aspects of the field of study.


Format. The QE consists of a written portion followed by an oral portion. The written portion is required by departmental policy, whereas Graduate Division requires the oral portion. After completion of the oral portion, the examiners decide, by unanimous vote, whether the student has demonstrated sufficient command of the content and the ability to design and produce an acceptable dissertation.


Timing. Non-Clinical students are encouraged to take their QE by the end of the summer after Year 2. Officially, however, they have until the end of Spring semester of Year 3 to complete their QE. Clinical students are encouraged to take their QE by the end of the summer after Year 3. Officially, however, they have until the end of Fall semester of Year 4 to complete their QE. Students do not necessarily have to have completed their coursework to take the QE, although they should have made good progress toward this goal.


Planning ahead. It is necessary to establish a QE committee and submit paperwork in advance of the exam (see below). During Year 2, the student should begin to consult with his or her mentor regarding the constitution of the QE committee, the timing of the exam, and the topics to be covered.


Scheduling considerations.

  • Each student must set a date for the examination and propose a committee no later than the first day of classes in the Spring Semester of Year 3 (Fall Semester of Year 4 for Clinical Science students), and the examination must be completed no later than the last day of classes that same semester.
  • Faculty members are under no obligation to attend summer meetings (June-August); this is important to bear in mind when suggesting possible dates to the committee.
  • The student must be registered during the semester of the QE, or if it is taken during the winter or summer intersessions, be registered in either the preceding or the following semester.
  • The oral section of the QE is usually held seven days after completion of the written examination (10 days if the examination includes one or more papers in lieu of questions).
  • Requests to postpone the QE beyond the specified time-frame will be considered only in the case of a medical leave, pregnancy, or other extenuating circumstance.
  • If a remote or hybrid QE is to be conducted, the student should follow the correct format according to the Graduate Division policy.
  • A Qualifying Exam Timeline and Guideline is available to help you prepare for the QE. We recommend that the student and QE Chair review this timeline together to decide on dates for each of the milestones.

Application for QE.  Three to four months prior to the proposed written QE date, the student forms a committee meeting the criteria outlined below. At least three weeks prior to the written QE date, the student must:

  1. submit the department’s Qualifying Examination Application Worksheet to the Graduate Student Services Advisor. The worksheet is in the Psych Grads bCourse here.
  2. submit Graduate Division’s Application for the Qualifying Examination.  The application is a Higher Degree Committees e-form. Go to CalCentral > My Dashboard > Student Resources > Submit a Form > Higher Degree Committees Form. See step 3 below, for special instruction regarding remote or hybrid exam format.
  3. For Remote or Hybrid exams only: The student must provide a statement in the comment box located on their QE app eForm using this template: “I and my committee agree to a [hybrid, in-person, or remote] QE exam.” The student should also be sure to read and be aware of Graduate Division policy on remote and hybrid exam format in advance of taking the exam. 

For Graduate Division's application, enter the date of the ORAL section of the exam. 


QE Committee Membership.  The QE committee normally consists of four faculty members. The criteria for selecting members are as follows:

  • A minimum of four members is required for the QE committee.
  • In addition to The Graduate Division's minimum requirements, the Department of Psychology requires that at least two members of the committee must consist of faculty from the Department of Psychology and must be members of the Academic Senate. (All non-senate faculty members require an exception approval from Graduate Division.)
  • The Qualifying Examination Chair cannot serve as the Dissertation Chair for the same student.
  • The Chair must be a member of the student’s degree-granting program

Clinical Science and Social-Personality students should refer to their Area Heads for QE requirements.


Administration of Written Exam. The written examination should be completed in one calendar day – either on-site in Berkeley Way West or in another location (currently remote, due to COVID), by consent of the QE committee chair. In any event, the exam is usually a closed-book, closed-note exam, although the student may refer to his or her reading lists. With two hours per topic, with one-hour breaks between topics, and a final hour for editing, an examination involving 3 questions might begin at 9:00 a.m. and be completed by 6:00 p.m. that same day – or another time-window of equal duration agreed upon by the student and QE Committee Chair. The answers should be organized and responsive to the questions chosen. A typical answer is 4-7 double-spaced pages, in a 12-point font.


The Committee Chair, or with prior arrangement the Graduate Student Services Advisor, will send the student the QE questions via email at the designated start-time (e.g., 9 a.m.), cc’ing the QE committee. The student would be advised to ask the Committee Chair ahead of time how s/he can be reached in case the questions are not e-mailed promptly. At the conclusion of the examination, the student should forward an electronic copy of the answers to each QE committee member, the Graduate Student Services Advisor, and retain a personal copy.


Oral Exam: The oral examination should be completed one week after the written examination. The oral examination usually lasts two to three hours, including breaks as necessary. All committee members should be physically present for the entirety of the oral examination. Contact the Graduate Student Services Advisor well in advance of the exam date if a committee member’s only option to be present is via video conferencing.  Visit the department's room reservations resource to reserve a room in Berkeley Way West building.  


At the beginning of the oral examination, the committee will excuse the student and meet privately to discuss the written portion of the exam and organize the oral examination. When the student returns to the room, the QE committee chair will summarize the committee’s evaluation of the written portion and review the plan for the oral examination. At the conclusion of the oral examination, the committee will again meet privately to evaluate the student’s performance. When the student returns to the room, the QE committee chair will summarize the decision of the committee, and report the committee members decisions to the Graduate Student Services Advisor. Note: the Graduate Student Services Advisor will collect the committee members' approval directly from the Committee; the student does not need to coordinate this process.


Evaluation of the Qualifying Examination. A unanimous vote of the QE committee is required for the student to pass the Qualifying Examination. Each committee member’s vote should reflect his or her opinion about the overall performance of the candidate, including the student’s responses to questions asked by the other committee members. If the examination results in a fail, a partial fail, or a split vote, the chair must obtain the approval of Graduate Division before making arrangements with the student and other committee members for a reexamination or for the substitution or addition of requirements.


Additional information is on Graduate Division's website: Qualifying Exam Results


Upon successful completion of the QE. Students should advance to candidacy as soon as possible after passing the QE (filing the required form, which requires them to list the members of their dissertation committee), and schedule their first Dissertation Advisory Committee meeting for the semester following the QE. See the Advancement to Candidacy section for details.